Last Night on the ABC

Monday night viewing on the ABC often takes a strong stomach — you get the day’s awful political news, followed by what is usually a sad Australian story, and then Four Corners hits you in the gut. Media Watch might offer some comic relief, but then you just want the world to swallow you whole when politicians use Q&A as an ideology echo-chamber.


Viewers were reminded that the Victorians and Edwardians were terrible human beings. Late British colonialism was about as bad as it gets when a nation decides to spread its “values” around the world. Kingsley Fairbridge established a child migrant program in the early 20th century and exported tens of thousands of British children who were removed from their mothers and fathers, often without their knowledge or consent. Former ABC MD, David Hill, was one of those children and has been giving evidence at an inquiry into child sex abuse in the UK.

The epic balls-up during the best picture nomination at the Oscars made you want to run from the room screaming. Stan Grant interviewed a neophyte ABC entertainment correspondent with extraordinarily white teeth and a gift for for hyperbole. He was “really pumped” that Moonlight won in the end.

Finally, we were subjected to another Canberra shell-game — hide the LNP faction. The imaginatively named Monkey Nut faction has apparently morphed into the much more prosaic and self-identifying Deplorables. This self-loathing — a certain everyman pride in atavism and spiteful ideology — has had an easy transition from the Trump campaign to Australian politics. Apparently the Deplorables want Tony Abbott back on the front bench prior to a leadership spill to oust Malcolm Turnbull. Gawd, just how badly do they want to lose the next election?

Australian Story

Vindication for a scientist, Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, who predicted widespread coral bleaching due to climate change back in 1994. Finally a scientist who is not merely wringing his hands and issuing dire warnings, but is actively looking for a way to protect the future of coral reefs.

The plan is to find 50 coral sites that would survive the coming coral apocalypse and use them a seed bank to reintroduce coral when sea temperatures return to normal (god knows when this will be — 2500, maybe.)

What it shows is the kind of long term thinking that is entirely missing from the political debate on climate change. It’s the unselfish consideration of future generations, rather than the awful discount rate we are currently applying of their future quality of life.

Four Corners

Four Corners is a relentlessly unsettling show, and most weeks there really is very little respite from felling terrible about the world. Last night’s show on plastic in the ocean promised to be more of the same, plus added cudgel with which to beat viewers who are part of the problem.

Luckily the first half the show was chock-full of pseudoscience, where researchers took on the Sisyphean task of estimating how much plastic was in the ocean and then simply used wild extrapolation to come up with terrifyingly large numbers.

Thankfully, the show moved on to the great work being done on ocean gyres, plastic decomposition and food-chain toxicity. By then, viewers had been let off the hook and there was actually a glimmer of hope, which its totally off-brand for Four Corners.

Media Watch

Australian media is terrible, News Ltd papers are probably the worst, though.


As is typical of the program, the panelists tend to discuss the current political issues of the day whilst paying lip service to the topics. Members of parliament never struggle to strain tenuous links between things like shark attacks and how terrible the government/opposition is. Last night was no exception, and illustrates the problem in public life: we have fewer generalists and pragmatic centrists — most people are hell-bent on dragging something back into their wheelhouse.

The problem with the policy debate is that there is such a staggering amount of inbuilt arse-covering that very little of substance is actually proposed. Between partisan hardwiring and corporate fence-sitting, there is almost no clear air for progress.

The facilitators of this mess we find ourselves in, the soothsayers who pour cold oatmeal over the whole landscape, are the consultant hacks and political analysts. Last night on Q&A there was a classic example in Leyla Acaroglu (a self-described “design disruptor and cultural provocateur”) of someone who is making things worse under the guise of doing good things. Someone who makes a living by muddying the waters.

This from the transcript:

You can’t just put the word ‘disruptive’ at the start of everything. It doesn’t work like that. I have to clarify something. Innovation is about doing something slightly better, disruption is about challenging a system to make something new emerge out of it. When you look at it from a sustainability and a systems perspective, it’s really about saying we have a bunch of systems at play, social, industrial and environmental, we are all the product of this planet, we all have to breath, we can’t deny that. So we have to think about jobs in the context of how we’re gonna sustain ourselves moving forward. We can’t just have economic growth without thinking about the causality, the impacts of our choices, how we create externalities, things that fall out of the system. We have a linear system right now. Resources come in, they get made into something, labour, we buy them in the consumer market and then what happens? They drop off the system, they go back in the holes from the mining. That linear system doesn’t work.

Like, what the fuck does any of that mean? It’s just buzzword salad and can be applied to any old topic. We have been getting nothing but sound and fury from so many of these media types who inexplicably get themselves invited on TV, and the problem is that political parties and corporations are paying them consultancy money and making everything worse. At what point does nuance become a pile of worthless platitudes?

Problem: climate change is real and we need to cut CO2 emissions to limit temperature rise to under 2 degrees. What do we do to combat negative externalities of production in society? Regulation and taxes. And what is the best lever to create disincentives? A tax. So we tax carbon and move on. However, Australia has been stuck in purgatory for nearly 10 years whilst the positions of the two major parties go from being ossified to reactionary and back to ossified. The Coalition have dug themselves into an ideological hole, and will keep digging until they have one big enough to fill with the sequestered CO2 from “clean coal” — a plan so laughably uneconomic that it has to be a red herring. Meanwhile, senior members of the Labor Party, so traumatised from years of Tony Abbott hitting them over the head with their carbon tax, can’t even elucidate the details of how will get to a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050.

The Australian economy is desperate for policy certainty on climate change, and electricity production and distribution. The problem isn’t the denialist knuckle draggers, it is the charlatans who turn public debate and policy discussions into meaningless dross.

— — —

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.